Meet The Press
With Tim Russert, May 22, 2005
Guest: Howard Dean, Chairman of the Democratic Party
Moderator: Tim Russert, NBC News
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: 100 days ago, former presidential candidate Howard Dean elected to lead the Democratic National Committee. This morning his first national television interview as chairman. Our guest, Governor Howard Dean of Vermont, returns to MEET THE PRESS.
And in our MEET THE PRESS Minute, another chairman of the Democratic Party, James Farley, from 42 years ago.
But first, since his election on February 12, he has traveled to 17 states, speaking to the party faithful. Governor Howard Dean is back on MEET THE PRESS.
DR. HOWARD DEAN: Thanks, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Let's go right to it. The Republicans say on Tuesday that if the Democrats do not stop filibustering their judicial appointments made by President Clinton--President Bush, they will change the rules for the filibuster. What will that change mean?
DR. DEAN: I think the change will be dreadful for American democracy, and I think it's going to be, frankly, very bad for the Republican Party. One of the great geniuses of American democracy, unlike most of the democracies in the world that minority rights are protected, 48 percent of us didn't vote for President Bush, but we still have some say in shaping the agenda of the country. If the filibuster is gotten rid of, the extended debate is gotten rid of in the Senate, first of all, it means the president can put 10 judges on the bench that we believe are not qualified to serve. We've confirmed 205 of his judges. He wants those last 10, so they're willing to change the rules to do it.
But it has much worse implications. The president has a Social Security plan, which is kind of out there. He basically wants to turn over Social Security to the same kind of people who gave us Enron. Privatization is something the America people don't support by a very large margin. Without extended debate, he can march marshal his party and just ram it right through. They already ram things through the House. We need more than one party in charge. And the vote on Tuesday is going to be critical to decide whether American democracy still allows those of us who didn't vote for the president to have any say in running the country whatsoever.
MR. RUSSERT: The Republicans say the filibuster rules being changed would apply to judicial nominations not to legislation like Social Security.
DR. DEAN: That's what they say now. What possible indication is there they won't change their mind later. We could not have predicted when the Republicans were killing 25 of President Clinton's judges when President Clinton was in office, we couldn't have predicted that they were going to resort to this when they got into office. The problem with this, frankly, for the Republicans, is, first of all, Congress is at its lowest popularity rating since--actually since 1993 when we were in power. And secondly, this is an advertisement to the American people, who suspect it--suspect something may go wrong when only one party is in charge. And one party is pretty well in charge in Washington. This is the last opportunity the Democrats have to say anything about public policy. It is a very big mistake, I think, for America. But it's a huge mistake for the Republican Party to do this.
MR. RUSSERT: Do the Republicans have the votes to do it?
DR. DEAN: I don't know. They say they do. I have no way of knowing what the vote counts are in the Senate. But, again, I hope they won't. Someday, the Democrats will be back in charge again. Do we want a Democratic Party that's in charge of everything? Well, you know, I suppose it's my job to say yes. But the truth is, as an American, it's better when parties share power. It's better when even those people who didn't win the election have something to say.
MR. RUSSERT: Republicans will say that the Democrats are speaking a different tune now than they did when they were in control. Robert Byrd, when he was a majority leader in '79, said, "Now, we are at the beginning of Congress. This Congress is not obliged to be bound by the dead hand of the past."
And the filibuster used to need 67 votes. They changed it to 60.
DR. DEAN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: Pat Leahy, your colleague from Vermont, said, "I have stated over and over again on this floor that I would object and fight against any filibuster on a judge, whether it is somebody I opposed or supported; that I felt the Senate should do its duty. If we don't like somebody the president nominates, vote him or her down. But don't hold them in this anonymous unconscionable limbo, because in doing that, the minority of Senators really shame all Senators."
DR. DEAN: Well, here's the problem. Look, I have nothing against up or down votes on people. I think that's a good thing. The problem is that--I'll give you an example. When I was governor, I felt like everybody was my boss, whether they voted for me or against me, they paid my salary, and they wold participate in the hiring process. So when I went out to town meetings and so forth and so on, I heard from everybody, all takers, whatever they wanted to lay on me. President Bush, for example, goes to these town meetings and doesn't allow Democrats or Independents who disagree with him into the town meeting. He has a crew of people who keep them out. This is a little bit like that. Don't those of us who didn't vote for the president, the 48 percent of Americans, don't we have some say? When the Republicans were in power, they kept a much larger percentage of President Clinton's nominees to the bench. They didn't do it with the filibuster, they did it by bottling them up in committee and not allowing them to move forward.
MR. RUSSERT: The numbers are pretty similar actually.
DR. DEAN: OK. They're similar. Now, the Democrats are doing the same thing. I think of course the party in power is going to argue against it. But if you look at what's good for America not what's good for the Republican Party, what the Republicans want to do is not good for America. I would argue that it's not very good in the long run for the Republican Party either. You can't cut the minority, especially if the minority is a very large one like 48 percent, totally out of everything.
It's a matter of checks and balances. Look at the terrible things that are going on in Congress today. You have a Republican leader who has been admonished three times by the Ethics Committee, and his response is to get rid of the Ethics Committee or render them inoperable. Now, those kinds of things are less likely to go on if you have...
MR. RUSSERT: But that's been changed back.
DR. DEAN: Yeah, but now he's up for a fourth reprimand and he's being investigated by the district attorney. The point is not to bring up Tom DeLay, which I'm sure we will, and his ethics problems, but the point is, those things are less likely to happen if you have two parties that have something to say about what goes on in Washington. Right now the Republicans control everything except for this group of Democrats in the Senate who do raise issues about these particular 10 judges who we don't think are qualified to sit on the bench. Ten out of 205--it seems to me that a president on either side is not likely to be right 100 percent of the time. You do need an opposition party. That's what we're trying to build. This is going to make it harder.
MR. RUSSERT: Tom DeLay--you raised him; he was at a dinner on May 12 being honored by Republicans and conservatives. He had this to say about you, Howard Dean. Let's watch.
(Videotape, May 12):
REP. TOM DELAY, (R-TX): Democrats around the country are growing more and more alienated every day because they see that the once-great party of Roosevelt and Kennedy has become the party of Howard Dean.
DR. DEAN: Well, you know, there are so many ethics problems here that I thought I'd actually have to write them down. He has been--the majority leader has been admonished for offering campaign money to a congressman's son to get a congressman's vote, providing an energy company with a seat at the table in exchange for campaign contributions, using the Department of Homeland Security to track down the private plane of some political enemies; now, he's under investigation for taking a golf vacation in Europe, $100,000, paid for by lobbyists. He's said that judges he disagreed with ought to be impeached. This is a culture of corruption and abuse of power in Washington. This is what happens when one party is in charge of everything. We need a change here.
And it's not just Tom DeLay. Look what's going on in the rest of the administration: paying journalists to write positive articles about unpopular policies; allowing lobbyists to sell access, like Jack Abramoff in the White House; hiding scientific reports when they come out with their mercury bills, for example, that show that mercury is much more devastating, and hiding that report in order to get that out there. These things are not good for America, and this is abuse of power. And, you know, Tom DeLay is welcome to say whatever he wants about me, but I don't think people like that ought to be leading Congress, no matter what party they're in.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Governor, you did on May 14 say something about Tom DeLay that raised a lot of eyebrows. Let's watch Howard Dean on Tom DeLay.
(Videotape, May 14):
DR. DEAN: I think Tom DeLay ought to go back to Houston, where he can serve his jail sentence down there courtesy of the Texas taxpayers.
MR. RUSSERT: "Serve his jail sentence"? He--what's he been convicted of?
DR. DEAN: He hasn't been convicted yet, but he is also, in addition to the things that I just mentioned, under investigation in Texas by a district attorney down there for violating the campaign finance laws of Texas by funneling corporate donations, which is illegal, into certain campaign activities. This gentleman is not an ethical person, and he ought not to be leading Congress, period. And it is endemic of what happens in Congress when one party controls everything.
MR. RUSSERT: You said in December of 2003 that we shouldn't prejudge Osama bin Laden. How can you sit here and have a different standard for Tom DeLay and prejudge him?
DR. DEAN: To be honest with you, Tim, I don't think I'm prejudging him. The things that I just read off--offering the congressman's son campaign money, providing Westar, the energy company, with a seat at the table in exchange for contributions, using the Department of Homeland Security to track down the private plane of political enemies--those are things that he has already been adjudicated for. Now, the question is: Where is this going to end up? I think there's a reasonable chance that this may end up in jail. And I don't think people ought to do these kinds of things in public service. I do not think they ought to do these kinds of things in public service. And I don't think Democrats should, either.
MR. RUSSERT: But shouldn't that be for a jury to decide and not you?
DR. DEAN: A jury will decide that.
MR. RUSSERT: Barney Frank, a liberal Democrat, said, "That's just wrong. I think Howard Dean was out of line talking about DeLay. The man has not been indicted. I don't like him, I disagree with some of what he does, but I don't think you, in a political speech, talk about a man as a criminal or his jail sentence."
DR. DEAN: As I said before, we're not speculating here. Three of the things I've mentioned he has already done and been admonished for by the House Ethics Committee. Look, Harry Truman was campaigning in 1948, and a guy went up and said, "Give 'em hell, Harry!" And Harry Truman said, "I don't give 'em hell. I just tell the truth and the Republicans think it's hell."
There's a lot of problems in Washington now. You know, for example, the administration withheld information--essentially lied to Congress--when they were passing the Medicaid prescription bill. They concealed the cost. Even the Republican conservatives were outraged, as they should have been. You can't do this. You've got to be ethical in government. I think one of the things that we're going to insist on is ethics in government. I'd like some real political and campaign and electoral reform as part of the Democratic Party platform as we offer a different vision to the American people. I think honesty in government's important, and it's something that's lacking in Washington right now.
MR. RUSSERT: But in order to have a civilized debate about these kinds of issues, a robust debate, can we be doing this to each other in the political process? Here's the Democratic National Committee Web site this morning. It is, in effect, a mug shot of Tom DeLay. You can see his height in the back with inches there, a serial number, 18821. Is that appropriate, a mug shot?
DR. DEAN: I don't think it's appropriate for Tom DeLay to be in Congress, Tim. I really don't. Some of his own party has suggested he step aside while this ethics investigation is going on. I think he ought to at least step aside while this ethics investigation is going on. We didn't start this. Look, we're not going to stoop to the kind of divisiveness that the Republicans, are doing and we're not going to stoop to the kind of abuse of power, but we are going to be tough as nails. This is a fight for the soul of America between the Republicans and Democrats.
We have an agenda that calls for pension reform, it calls for leaving Social Security alone, except for the tweaks that may be needed to fix it. It calls for real jobs. It calls for closing the deficit. The last president--the only president in the last 35 years to balance the budget was Bill Clinton, a Democrat. You can't trust Republicans with your money. The country is at a crossroads. Are we going to be ethical in government? Are we going to stand up for fiscal responsibility? Are we going to stand up for freedom and personal responsibility?
The president keeps talking about freedom for Iraqis. What about the freedom for Americans to decide their most personal dilemmas in that family? Speaking of Tom DeLay, 14 judges made decisions in the Terri Schiavo case to allow that family to work out their problems through the court system. Tom DeLay didn't like it. He talks about now impeaching judges and removing them if they disagree. We need to retain American democracy. That means everybody has to be part of that American democracy, and, yes, that even includes Democrats and Independents who may not agree with the president.
MR. RUSSERT: So you will not retract or apologize your comments about Tom DeLay?
DR. DEAN: Absolutely not.
MR. RUSSERT: This is what you told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "[Dean] said Democrats need `message discipline.' He said they should for the present forego the satisfaction of attacking House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's ethics problems ... and focus on attacking Bush's plan to create private Social Security accounts."
You're not taking your own advice.
DR. DEAN: Well, I am in this sense. That was a couple of months ago, and this has been an issue that's been in the news with the Jack Abramoff scandals, and it's been so in the news that you can't not comment on it. Again, another scandal that's going on, the Republicans, Jack Abramoff, one of the president's leading fund-raisers, now being investigated for essentially selling influence to get into the White House and a variety of things like that.
MR. RUSSERT: One of the president's leading fund-raisers...
DR. DEAN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...or one of Congress' leading fund-raisers?
DR. DEAN: My understanding is that he was one of the pioneers for the Bush campaign, in addition to being one of Congress' leading fund-raisers.
MR. RUSSERT: And close to Tom DeLay.
DR. DEAN: And close to Tom DeLay.
MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned Social Security. You were up in Ithaca at Cornell. "Dean pointed out that while he would not endorse this, if Social Security were left alone for" 10 "years, its benefits would be reduced to 80 percent of what it is now."
DR. DEAN: It's probably a slight mistake that the reporter made. It's actually about 35 years, but that's right. If we did nothing...
MR. RUSSERT: In 2042, the benefits would be about 73 percent of the schedule.
DR. DEAN: That's right.
MR. RUSSERT: So that being said, that Social Security recipients will in effect have a reduction in benefits if we do nothing...
DR. DEAN: That's right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...what are the Democrats going to do to prevent that?
DR. DEAN: Well, the first thing we're going to do is try to get the president to be serious about the issue. The president's pursuing these private accounts. I said earlier, and I'm really not kidding, this is turning Social Security over to the same folks that gave us Enron. We see now what happens to private accounts. The recent bankruptcy court judges is now undoing the pension funds of the people who work for United Airlines. That means likely that all the other airlines are next, because if you take a $9 billion item off the balance sheet of United Airlines, all the other airlines are going to want to do the same thing.
So we see this attack on both private and public pensions. I don't think we ought to attack the Social Security system. It is the last line of defense that Americans have when they lose their pensions. So the Democrats--we will be happy to sit down with the president, but the president has got to stop doing what he always does, which is approaching issues from an ideological point of view. There's only one reason to put private accounts in Social Security.
The president has admitted they do nothing to help the problem in 2042. And that is they have an agenda to privatize Social Security. It helps their campaign contributors and the businesses that support the president, and it also removes the risk from the government and puts it on the individual recipients. And it doesn't, contrary to what the president said, earn any more money once you get through the fees and so forth. When the president is willing to really sit down with us, we'll sit down with him, and we'll work with him to come up with a plan to tweak Social Security so that we can fix the problems that are going to happen to it in 35 or 40 years.
MR. RUSSERT: When you say tweak, you'd be willing to consider raising the eligibility age, reduction in cost of living, means testing?
DR. DEAN: Well, I don't think you...
MR. RUSSERT: There's tough choices here.
DR. DEAN: There are tough choices here, and when the president indicates that he's serious about making tough choices, we'd like to help make those tough choices. There are also some other things that people have, including Democrats, have put forward that the president has rejected out of hand. The president...
MR. RUSSERT: Such as?
DR. DEAN: Such as raising the cap. Right now the Social Security tax is only on the first, I think, about $85,000 worth of wages. I saw an economic analysis the other day that said if you remove that cap entirely that Social Security will be solvent.
MR. RUSSERT: But that's raising taxes.
DR. DEAN: Well, the president has said that he only--that's why we don't come up with a plan, because whatever plan we come up with, the president is just going to say, "Oh, we're not going to do that, we're not going to do this." All right, Mr. President, let's sit down and get serious. Take privatization of Social Security off the table, and I can guarantee you that Senator Reid and Representative Pelosi will sit down with the president. They have told me so privately. They would be delighted to sit down with the president and try to work this out.
MR. RUSSERT: Congresswoman Pelosi said "We don't need a plan." Is this the Democrats doing, in effect, what the Republicans did with Hillary Clinton? She put forward her health-care plan as first lady. The Republicans didn't offer an alternative but just went at it, criticizing it, and you learned from that politically and that's exactly what you're doing to the Republicans.
DR. DEAN: The problem is that the president won't get off the dime. You know, there was an opportunity for the Clinton folks to compromise with Bob Dole, and we missed that opportunity. I was involved in the health care. I'll take some piece--I'll was--I'll take some responsibility for that. We missed that opportunity. We could have had something. The president can get something done on Social Security, but he has got to stop this nonsense of insisting that we privatize the last bastion of hope for retirees in this country as they see, under this administration, their private pensions get eroded.
MR. RUSSERT: And if the president takes private personal accounts off the table, then you would sit down, the Democrats would sit down and everything else would be on the table.
DR. DEAN: I won't sit down, but I'm sure--it's not my job to do that. But the senators and the congressmen have indicated that they'd be happy to sit down if privatization comes off the table.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me talk about some of the things you have said about the Republicans. Here's Howard Dean in January: "I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for..."
Howard Dean in February: "This is a struggle between good and evil and we're the good?"
Do you really hate Republicans? Do you consider them evil?
DR. DEAN: I don't--well, actually that was a little out of context. But I don't hate Republicans as individuals. But I hate what the Republicans are doing to this country. I really do. I hate deficits, as you know. When I was governor, I really was very tough on fiscal responsibility. Deficits in the long run aren't good for the country, and they do lower our standard of living. Every American family knows that you have to pay your bills. I hate the dishonesty, you know, the idea that you'd put a program through Congress without telling people what it costs, I think that's wrong. Some of the things that the president said on our way into Iraq, they just weren't true, and I don't think that's right. So...
MR. RUSSERT: Such as?
DR. DEAN: Such as the weapons of mass destruction, which we have all known about, but the...
MR. RUSSERT: Well, you said there were weapons of mass destruction.
DR. DEAN: I said I wasn't sure, but I said I thought there probably were. But the thing that really bothered me the most, which the 9-11 Commission said also wasn't true, is the insinuation that the president continues to make to this day that Osama bin Laden [sic, he means Saddam] had something to do with supporting terrorists that attacked the United States. That is false. The 9-11 Commission, chaired by a Republican, said it was false. Is it wrong to send people to war without telling them the truth. And the truth was Osama bin Laden was a very bad person who was doing terrible things, but that Iraq was never a threat to the United States. That was the truth. It was underlined by the 9-11 Commission, headed, again, by a Republican, a well-respected group of people. I don't think you send American men and women to war, first of all without properly equipping them, and secondly without telling the truth to their parents about why it is we're asking them to make that sacrifice. So those are the kinds of things that I think are very bad about the Republicans.
Then there's some smaller things that are equally important. There was a study--the president has just put out rules for how much mercury is allowed in the air. Now, as a physician I know that mercury is a neurotoxic chemical which now has prevented people from eating most of the fish they catch because so much of it is going into the water. The president ignored--excuse me, the--his people ignored a report that said that mercury was much more toxic than they suspected and that the rules that the president was putting out were going to a allow more mercury into the air and make things worse. That report just got taken off the table and they went ahead and did it anyway because they have an agenda that's different than protecting the environment.
I don't like that kind of stuff. If the president wants to do that, he should say to the American people "Look, it's true that mercury's a bad thing and this may allow a little bit more, but it may allow for more jobs." I don't know what his reason for changing his position on mercury or pollution is. Why not be truthful with the American people about why it is and what the trade-offs really are?
If you wanted to send troops into Iraq--you know, I supported his father when his father sent troops to Iraq. I thought his father made a reasonable case. Kuwait is an ally of the United States. Saddam Hussein has invaded it. He's torturing people. We have an obligation as the last superpower to fix this. Instead the president said, "Saddam Hussein is a threat to the United States," and that was just flat-out false. And I don't think that's the way you run a government.
MR. RUSSERT: But John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Lieberman all said Saddam was a threat to the United States. That was the belief.
DR. DEAN: Because they were told that by the president of the United States, and there is a wide berth given to the president. And I think it's justifiable. In a time of threat to the United States, there is a wide berth given to the president. You trust the president of the United States to give you the information no matter what party they're in. And I think the president was not--did not treat the Senate and the House properly either.
MR. RUSSERT: Wasn't it the intelligence community that misled the president, as well?
DR. DEAN: Well, I believe, and I think many Americans believe, and I think this has been written about, that there was pressure put on the intelligence agencies, as John Bolton was clearly demonstrated to have put pressure on a variety of people in the State Department, to come up with the conclusions that the president wanted. That's what I believe, and I think there's some evidence to that.
MR. RUSSERT: When did the president ever suggest that Saddam Hussein was responsible for September 11?
DR. DEAN: He didn't. His nuance--his people suggested that. He suggested that in a nuanced way in many of his speeches. He was asked once directly about it and said, "No, I don't have that evidence." But the truth is in every speech, including the ones during the campaign where he deliberately muddled the anti-terrorism war that we're engaged in with the war in Iraq. They are two separate efforts. Unfortunately, now because of the president's actions, I would argue that we're in greater danger now because of what's going on in Iraq than we were before. Now, there are terrorists in Iraq. They have migrated there since our troops were there.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me stay on your rhetoric. January, I mentioned that "I hate the Republicans, what they stand for, good and evil, we are the good." In March, you said, "Republicans are brain dead." You mentioned you're a physician--and this is April. "[Dean] did draw howls of laughter by mimicking a drug-snorting Rush Limbaugh. `I'm not very dignified,' Dean said."
DR. DEAN: Well, that's true. A lot of people have accused me of not being dignified.
MR. RUSSERT: But is it appropriate for a physician to mock somebody who has gone into therapy and the abuse for drug addiction?
DR. DEAN: Here's the point I was trying--as most of these things are taken by the Republicans, spun around Washington saying this in a one sentence, which I generally had said. But then they're sort of manipulated around, saying this is the kind of thing he said. The Rush Limbaugh comment was one that I made about Rush Limbaugh, and I also said something about Bill O'Reilly. The problem is not that these folks have problems. They do, and they have problems in the case of a drug addiction. That's a medical problem. And I respect those who clearly, in my profession, who are trying to overcome their problems.
The problem is it is galling to Democrats, 48 percent of us who did not support the president, it is galling to be lectured to about moral values by folks who have their own problems. Hypocrisy is a value that I think has been embraced by the Republican Party. We get lectured by people all day long about moral values by people who have their own moral shortcomings. I don't think we ought to give a whole lot of lectures to people--I think the Bible says something to the effect that be careful when you talk about the shortcomings of somebody else when you haven't removed the mote from your own eye. And I don't think we ought to be lectured to by Republicans who have got all these problems themselves.
Rush Limbaugh has made a career of belittling other people and making jokes about President Clinton, about Mrs. Clinton and others. I don't think he's in any position to do that, nor do I think Bill O'Reilly is in a position to abuse families of survivors of 9/11, given his own ethical shortcomings. Everybody has ethical shortcomings. We ought not to lecture each other about our ethical shortcomings.
MR. RUSSERT: But should you jump in the fray and be mocking those kind of people?
DR. DEAN: I will use whatever position I have in order to root out hypocrisy. I'm not going to be lectured as a Democrat--we've got some pretty strong moral values in my party, and maybe we ought to do a better job standing up and fighting for them. Our moral values, in contradiction to the Republicans', is we don't think kids ought to go to bed hungry at night. Our moral values say that people who work hard all their lives ought to be able to retire with dignity. Our moral values say that we ought to have a strong, free public education system so that we can level the playing field. Our moral values say that what's going on in Indian country in this country right now in terms of health care and education is a disgrace, and for the president of the United States to cut back on health-care services all over America is wrong.
Democrats have strong moral values. Frankly, my moral values are offended by some of the things I hear on programs like "Rush Limbaugh," and we don't have to put up with that. Our problem in this party is we didn't stand up early enough and fight back against folks like that who thought they were going to push us around and bully us, and we're not going to do it anymore.
MR. RUSSERT: One issue where the Democrats seem to be changing their thinking is abortion. Here's Howard Dean on April 17: "I think we need to talk about abortion differently... Republicans have forced us into a corner to defend abortion..." And then, April 21: "If I could strike the words `choice' and `abortion' out of the lexicon of our party, I would."
DR. DEAN: Absolutely. I'm not advocating we change our position. I believe that a woman has a right to make up her own mind about what kind of health care she gets, and I think Democrats believe that in general. Here's the problem--and we were outmanipulated by the Republicans; there's no question about it. We have been forced into the idea of "We're going to defend abortion." I don't know anybody who thinks abortion is a good thing. I don't know anybody in either party who is pro-abortion. The issue is not whether we think abortion is a good thing. The issue is whether a woman has a right to make up her own mind about her health care, or a family has a right to make up their own mind about how their loved ones leave this world. I think the Republicans are intrusive and they invade people's personal privacy, and they don't have a right to do that.
Let me tell you why I think we ought to--why I want to strike the words "abortion" and "choice." When I campaigned for this job, I talked to lots of Democrats. And there are significant numbers of pro-life Democrats in the South. And one lady said to me, you know, "I'm pro-life. I don't like abortion. I would never have one. I would hope my daughter would never have one. But, you know, if the lady next door got herself in a fix, I'm not sure I should be the one to tell her what to do." Now, we call that woman pro-choice, but she thinks of herself as pro-life. The minute we start with the "pro-choice, pro- choice, pro-choice," she says, "Well, that's not me."
But when you talk about framing this debate the way it ought to be framed, which is "Do you want Tom DeLay and the boys to make up your mind about this, or does a woman have a right to make up her own mind about what kind of health care she gets," then that pro-life woman says "Well, now, you know, I've had people try to make up my mind for me and I don't think that's right." This is an issue about who gets to make up their minds: the politicians or the individual. Democrats are for the individual. We believe in individual rights. We believe in personal freedom and personal responsibility. And that debate is one that we didn't win, because we kept being forced into the idea of defending the idea of abortion.
We'd like to make abortion rare. You know that abortions have gone up 25 percent since George Bush was president?
MR. RUSSERT: But...
DR. DEAN: We need to reduce the number of abortions in this country. There is common ground between us and pro-life Democrats, and we ought to find that common ground.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Governor, the problem for Democrats has been that many request abortion on demand. When there are attempts to say that there should be parental notification for children under 18-- to be notified with a judicial bypass, if there's a spouse--a parental abuse situation. Many Democrats oppose it. Third-trimester abortion, "partial-birth" abortion, Democrats opposed it.
DR. DEAN: Tim...
MR. RUSSERT: President Clinton vetoed it. Every time there's a vote to restrict abortion, the majority of the Democrats seem to vote against it.
DR. DEAN: Tim, first of all, President Clinton vetoed the third-term--late-term-abortion ban because the Republicans refused to make an exception for the health and the life of the mother. Now, it--I don't think that there is an ethical doctor in America who will do a third-term abortion without there being a reason like the health and life of the mother. I don't think it's ethical to do third-term abortions, unless-- just to save the health and the life of the mother. I don't think that's unreasonable. Shouldn't this be a realm where doctors and women make up their minds instead of politicians? What do politicians know about practicing medicine? Not very many of us have an MD.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, the--but several heads of the American Medical Association endorsed banning third-term abortions because they said life of the mother is one thing but the health is a much different issue. It can be defined in so many different ways, it was a major loophole.
DR. DEAN: You know what I'd prefer to see, frankly? I'd prefer to see medical practice boards around the country, state by state--because people do believe different things about this in different states. I'd prefer to see medical practice boards around the country set ethical guidelines for abortion. I don't have a problem with that. You know, I don't know of people who do third-term abortions without a moral reason for doing it, which is to save the health and life of the mother. So let them set some ethical guidelines. But I think this debate ought to get out of the realm of having politicians standing up and grandstanding.
It is an incredibly difficult area. It is an area which is conflicted. I don't know anybody who ever had an abortion who feels, "Oh, boy, this is just great. I can't wait to have another one." That's not what this is about. This is a very difficult, horrible choice. Does the government make that choice or does the individual make that choice? There are ethical constraints around the issue of abortion. There is no question about that. I think those ought to be done state by state. And I think doctors ought to have a lot more say about it than they do now.
MR. RUSSERT: Both parties have tried to use it politically.
DR. DEAN: I agree with that, and I think that's unfortunate. I think it is time now for pro-life Americans and pro-choice Americans or Americans who believe in individual freedom to get together, and we have common ground. The common ground is we'd all like to reduce the number of abortions. But put aside the rhetoric, the difficulty and let's work to reduce the number of abortions. That's something we can agree on. I don't think we're going to get there with abstinence-only education. I don't think we're going to get there if we condemn contraceptions or condom use and all that kind of thing. But let's see what common ground that we have. There are a lot of very reasonable Americans who call themselves pro-life. There are a lot of very reasonable Americans who believe in individual choice and personal responsibility. I think we can work together. There are not many of us who want to see the abortion rate continue to go up as it has under President Bush.
MR. RUSSERT: We're going to take a quick break. A lot more of our conversation with Governor Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, right after this.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back talking to Howard Dean.
I mentioned Terri Schiavo. I want to talk about a comment you made: "We're going to use Terri Schiavo later on. This is going to be an issue in 2006 and it's going to be an issue in 2008, because we're going to have an ad with a picture of Tom DeLay saying, `Do you want this guy to decide whether you die or not, or is that going to be up to your loved ones?'"
Why didn't one Democratic senator stand up in the U.S. Senate and stop the legislation regarding Terri Schiavo if the party feels so strongly about it?
DR. DEAN: Well, you know, I didn't say anything about it. Now, you talked about message discipline earlier on, and I have had people complain to us how come we didn't do anything about it at the time? That really was in the middle of the Social Security fight, and I do think in general it is true that Tom DeLay has now become a huge issue, not because we made him one; it was because the papers made him one. There were all these other things that have now come to light that he's doing, and think it's fair to comment on it and it's certainly something that differentiates our position on good government and clean government and the other side.
On the Terri Schiavo case, first of all we have to remember these are human beings. This is a terrible, terrible case, but it's something that almost every American can relate to. You know, a lot of Americans can't relate to abortion. They don't think they know anybody that's ever had one or ever had to take--be in that position. It turns out that's not true. A lot of people--most people don't talk about it. But in the case of living and dying, every American family--this is everybody's nightmare, and believe me, as a doctor, I can't tell you how many times I had to face this.
The reason I didn't say anything about it at the time--and leaving the senators aside, as the chairman didn't say anything about it at the time, is because we are on a roll with Social Security. The Democrats, one of our biggest faults is that we want to tell you everything. We want to tell you every last detail about everything we know. And one of the things I do admire about President Bush is his political ability. I don't admire his policy, but he's good at politics. He gets on, he says a quick message, 20 seconds, repeats it four times a day, for 100 days in a row. We've got to learn to do that. So in the middle of a huge Social Security fight where the future of, I think, people's livelihood and seniors' security is at stake, I didn't want to get dragged into that. But--and maybe we should have. You know, maybe we should have said "No, this is outrageous," because the public obviously agreed with us. But I didn't realize at the time what the impact of what they were trying to do was. Part of it was because 14 court decisions in a row and then the backlash was "We don't like the court decisions, the hell with them, we're going do it our way and we're going to impeach them, impeach them..."
MR. RUSSERT: But the sense was, Governor, that the Democrats thought that the election in 2004 may have turned on cultural and moral values, and they were afraid to stand up and be seen taking a stance against, quote...
DR. DEAN: Well, I wasn't afraid of that. I mean, I said at the time--people did ask me about it, I said personally at the time I thought it was terrible, because I think that's a deeply personal choice. I can't speak for Democrats in the Senate. We didn't confer. It came up very fast. Look, I'm not making excuses for this. In retrospect, probably at the time we should have said, "No, this is a terrible thing." But I myself, who thought it was a terrible thing, did say so but didn't have a press conference and grandstand about it in a big way is because we need to stay on message on Social Security. As it turns out the Schiavo case will probably be the turning point about our ability to make our case to Americans about the incredible invasiveness of Republicans when it comes to making personal private decisions.
In places like Arizona, for example, where there's a huge ethic almost--libertarianism about individualism, this is the action of the Republicans that will undo them and any claim that they prefer to allow individuals to make up their own mind. This is the case that ultimately I think is going to galvanize Democrats into being the party of individual freedom and individual and personal responsibility.
MR. RUSSERT: It's interesting. You said that the issue is are we going to live in a theocracy where the highest powers tell us what to do? And I was reading the Pew Research Center where they went out and surveyed 11,000 of your closest advisers...
DR. DEAN: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...contributors, activists, volunteers. It was quite striking. Dean activists vs. all Democrats--attend attend church seldom or never, 59 percent of Dean activists seldom or never as opposed to 25 percent of all Democrats; 92 percent white, 82 percent liberal, 45 percent over 75,000. Is your base secular, affluent, white and liberal?
DR. DEAN: I think not quite as much as the Pew folks. That was a very fascinating study. The only methodological problem is they only went on the Internet, and, therefore, you could answer or could not. But I think it's a great piece.
Look, I fit into some of those categories. I don't go to church all that much. I consider myself a deeply religious person. I consider myself a Christian. And I don't--you know, some of the other Christians would dare to say that I'm not a Christian. Frankly, it's what gets my ire up. We get back to the Rush Limbaugh stuff. I am sick of being told what I and what I'm not by other people. I'll tell you what I am. I'm a committed Christian. And the fact of whether I go to church or not, people can say whether I should or shouldn't, I worship in my own way. It came out in the campaign that I pray every night. That's my business. That's not the business of the pharisees who are going to preach to me about what I do and then do something else.
You know, I care about values a lot. And one of the reasons that I care a lot is because of my upbringing. And it was a--I grew up in a Christian household. Now, because I grew up--I'm a Congregationalist. People say, "Well, those are liberals." Well, since when do Christians get tagged liberal or conservative? You either believe in the teachings of Jesus or you don't. I do. And I'm not ashamed to admit it. But I don't go around wearing it on my sleeve. And I think that's a private matter. And I'm happy to talk about it. I've been through a political campaign. There are a lot of folks to whom, you know, that's very important. I respect that. But I'm not going to be lectured to about my own private morality and my own private business by people who don't have the mote taken out of their own eye.
MR. RUSSERT: Newt Gingrich, when you were elected chairman of the party, said the Democrats must have a death wish. The hotline did a survey, The Political Hotline published by National Journal, and of the 17 states that you went to, a Democratic governor or Democratic senator has not appeared with you in those states. Are people running from you?
DR. DEAN: I doubt it. When I went to Mississippi, all four former governors showed up. You know, I stayed over at the governor's house in Kansas. I mean, I think when you go into a state, and you're there for four or five hours, it's pretty hard for governors to change their schedule and suddenly decide they're going to have to be by your side. I've raised over $1 million for state parties, including places like Arizona and Oklahoma.
MR. RUSSERT: Republicans say January through March, they've raised $32 million, double what the Democrats have raised.
DR. DEAN: Well, that's--I think that's fine. You know, Republicans have always been better at raising money than we have. But don't forget, I've only been in office for 100 days. We're still raising money at twice the rate we were in the first year of McCain-Feingold, which was 2003, and we're raising $1 million a week. We're also putting people, who are hired by--local people on the DNC payroll in every state in America. And that is going to be really what's going to create the opportunity for us to win.
We cannot run 18-state campaigns. We've got to be everywhere. We've got to be in Mississippi. We've got to be in Oklahoma. We have to be organized. By the end of this year, we have a goal of having a Democrat in every precinct in America, not every county, but every precinct in America, four paid political organizers in every state in America in 2005. We're not going to have seven-month campaigns for the presidency anymore. We're going to have four-year campaigns, and we're going to help governorships in '05 and '06 and '07. We're going to help congressionals in '06 and '08. But we're also going to try to get elected people running for the state legislature, people running for city council. We're involved in some mayors' races right now. We need to do this from top to bottom just as the Republicans did. They have a 30-year plan. As I said, there's nothing I admire about what the Republicans are doing to this country politically, but I admire their campaign business model a great deal. And we're, frankly, going to adopt a lot of it that works for Democrats.
MR. RUSSERT: The USA Today on Friday had a big piece. "A Dam Sure Based GOP Goes Rating." They compare your schedule to that of Republican chairman Ken Mehlman. He's going the Hispanic route, Catholics groups, reaching out. Your schedule is primarily with Democratic activists, labor unions, gays, the core, the base of the Democratic party.
DR. DEAN: You know, there was more petulance in that article than there was facts. The truth is we're reaching out all over the place. We are talking to people. I have spoken with evangelicals. I have visited with some of the Catholic hierarchy in this country. We are going to do some more of that. I've been to 18 states. It was 17 when you got your numbers, but recently I went to Oklahoma and Arizona. Of those, eight of them have been red states. We're trying to get our message out everywhere. We are going to go after the Republican--what they think is the Republican base. We're going to go after red states. There are some of those states that we can win. My philosophy is actually there's no such thing as a red state and a blue state. There are purple states. Some are more purple than others. We need to be everywhere, and we will be.
MR. RUSSERT: In your home state of Vermont, there's a vacancy for the United States Senate about to occur. Bernie Sanders, the congressman from Vermont, wants to run for that seat. He is a self- described avowed socialist.
DR. DEAN: Well, that's what he says. He's really a populist.
MR. RUSSERT: But is there room in the Democratic Party for a socialist?
DR. DEAN: Well, first of all, he's not a socialist, really.
MR. RUSSERT: He...
DR. DEAN: He hasn't said that for a while.
MR. RUSSERT: Oh, he has a--he wrote in his book: "Outside or in the House, I am a Democratic socialist."
DR. DEAN: Well, a Democratic socialist--all right, we're talking about words here. And Bernie can call himself anything he wants. He is basically a liberal Democrat, and he is a Democrat that--he runs as an Independent because he doesn't like the structure and the money that gets involved. And he actually has, I think, some good points about campaign finance reform. The bottom line is that Bernie Sanders votes with the Democrats 98 percent of the time. And that is a candidate that we think...
MR. RUSSERT: So you'd support him?
DR. DEAN: We may very well end up supporting him. We need to work some things out because it's very important for us not to split the votes in some of the other offices as well.
MR. RUSSERT: In 1996 you said you would never have voted for Bernie Sanders. Instead, you opted in recent years to leave the ballot blank.
DR. DEAN: Bernie and I have had our difficulties over the years. We've had our strong disagreements. He's a strong personality. We're fighting for the future of America, and a Bernie Sanders in the United States Senate is going to be a whole lot better than somebody who will vote to confirm right-wing judges, somebody who will vote to undo minority rights, somebody who will vote to kill Social Security. This is a battle where personalities and differences have to be put aside, and we have to do what's right for America.
MR. RUSSERT: You describe...
DR. DEAN: And Bernie Sanders will be a strong candidate.
MR. RUSSERT: You describe yourself as being blunt, that what differentiates you from others is that you will be blunt. "I have to be blunt. It's what will differentiate me from the others. Blunt is what I do. I think there's an enormous market for somebody who says what he thinks."
DR. DEAN: Maybe not as big a one as I thought, judging by the presidential returns.
MR. RUSSERT: You also say, "I can be overbearing to people whose ideas I don't agree with or respect." You sound like you're describing John Bolton, the president's nominee to be ambassador to the U.N.
DR. DEAN: Well, the difference between me and John Bolton is that I've never called up a subordinate and tried to influence their testimony or behavior. I've never had--tried to move somebody out of their job because they disagreed with me. I have an enormous amount of respect for people who have different opinions, but they have to defend their opinions. You can't just say, "I want to privatize Social Security because I want to privatize Social Security." You have to really show me why you want to do what you want to do. And if you can defend your ideas, I'll respect those ideas. I think the difference between me and John Bolton--I don't know John Bolton personally, but from what I've read in the newspapers, he doesn't seem to respect anybody who disagrees with him. That's probably not a good attribute to have if you want to be an ambassador to the United Nations.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you three photographs: Fred Harris, Henry "Scoop" Jackson and James Farley. Those three men, all chairmen of the Democratic National Committee. And after they served, they all ran for president.
DR. DEAN: And not one of them won.
MR. RUSSERT: Will Howard Dean run for president?
DR. DEAN: I don't have any idea, but I certainly won't do it in 2008. I gave my word not to and I intend to keep that word.
MR. RUSSERT: But down the road?
DR. DEAN: I don't have any idea. You know, if I could push a button, I would make sure there was a Democratic president in 2008, which would preclude my running--from ever even thinking about it.
MR. RUSSERT: Is there a front-runner in your party?
DR. DEAN: If--you know, that's the one thing I don't comment on. You know, I'm proudly willing to say anything, but I'm not willing to comment on that because I will have to be the referee. So I've really just sworn off any speculation on either side about presidential politics in 2008.
MR. RUSSERT: Governor Howard Dean, as always, we thank you for joining us and sharing your views.
DR. DEAN: Tim, thanks for having me on.
Original transcript is at MSNBC.
Democrats comment on the interview on the DNC blog.